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Universties' Incongruous Behaviour in the Face of the AHRC Report's Findings

Universties' Incongruous Behaviour in the Face of the AHRC Report's Findings

WORDS BY JESS SAYED

In print, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) national survey into sexual assault and harassment in universities was conducted ‘at the request of Australia’s 39 universities’. In actuality, it is through the tireless and uncompromising work of student activists, in tandem with groups such as the Hunting Ground Australia, that the age long issue of campus-centric sexual violence has gained traction in a setting that is not a student publication.

Although, any such traction is not an endpoint in a struggle against increasingly reputation based and profit oriented universities. We need only look at the general response of Sydney University in the immediate days – even hours – following the release of the AHRC report.

There have been ready circumstances in which University management have had direct communication with student representatives concerned with sexual violence on campus, such as the Safer Communities Committee. During these consultations, representatives have made clear the ineffectiveness of the Universities Australia “Respect. Now. Always.” poster campaign currently employed by the University, as but a thin veneer over what is an incredibly complex, sensitive and comprehensive issue.

An effort of USyd’s Women’s Collective to raise awareness of today’s protest against Rape on campus – a response to the AHRC report – by advertising the protest with their own branding and postering was undermined as a number of these posters, stuck onto official university poster boards, were found to have been removed by morning.

Perhaps it is speculatory to suggest that these posters were removed by University management. But it’s not like they haven’t done exactly the same thing before – that is, to covertly deploy campus security to remove posters pertaining to the issue of sexual assault on campus. It’s also interesting to note the small handful of “Respect. Now. Always.” posters which apparently survived last night’s purge.

But let’s not worry about a few bits of paper on a wall. Vice Chancellor Michael Spence yesterday announced that Sydney University would implement all recommendations contained within the AHRC report.

The official statement does haphazardly list some of the actions already undertaken by the University. It must be noted that most of these were done reluctantly, most of these came to fruition only under sustained pressure from student-led campaigns. Most of these were public relations stunts.

It’s almost sardonic that the University asserts that it will indeed follow the recommendations of the AHRC report. It doesn’t check out with its history of bypassing, or at least severely altering any actual recommendations made in the past by student activists – think about that example of USyd continuing to use the Universities Australia poster campaign, despite being told that it wasn’t working.

The release of the AHRC report raises an alarming question of the University needing some kind of esteemed, official, verified report, approved by a peak body, in order to take what is very obviously a serious issue… seriously. And not even then.

Whilst useful, the report is only an esteemed confirmation of what survivors have been saying (screaming, crying) for years. Arguably, it acts as an instrument to delegitimise the work done by activists. In line with the sentiment expressed at today’s rally, the data wasn’t needed.

Though it has raised awareness, this flawed national survey should not be be conceived as a total victory. It is more important now, whilst the issue is ripe, to continue to mount pressure and express rage towards an institution whose incongruent behaviour continues to enfeeble its students.

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